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SILENCE IN THE CITY?
Craig G Pennington looks at the dangerous precedent of CIPs, Noise Abatement Notices and 'vertical drinking establishments'.
In last month’s edition of Bido Lito! we featured a guest column from Static Gallery Director Paul Sullivan (Issue 19, Page 20), on the subject of the upcoming public debate to be held concerning the Noise Abatement Notice, which has been served upon the venue by Liverpool City Council. Dated 28th November 2011, the ‘Abatement Notice in Respect of Statutory Nuisance’ prohibits the recurrence of the nuisance it defines as, ‘the playing of loud amplified music’. In plain and simple terms, Liverpool City Council attempting to put the kibosh on live music at Static Gallery.
Static is a vibrant city centre venue and workspace
Bido Lito! has been granted access to the paperwork concerning the notice and also took part in the debate (2nd February 2012), which itself was a successful coming together of opinion from both sides of the argument. From what we understand, the notice has been served as a result of the protestations of two complainants, residents unhappy with the noise generated by the venue during live shows. This is a concern shared by Peter Schriewersmann, the Chair of the Ropewalks Residents Association, who said at the public meeting, “There should be no noise emanating from venues and it is down to residents to address that with the venue operators themselves.” Herein lies the central problem; the competing roles of the city as a place of sleep and a place of play.
Much of the conversation at the debate seemed to centre on the issue of the CIP (Cumulative Impact Policy) which was introduced by Liverpool City Council at the start of this year (and first brought to our attention by SevenStreets.com, with David Lloyd’s article ‘Late Night Liverpool: The Party’s Over?’). According to Max Steinberg, Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision, “The CIP will ensure that the city centre’s visitor, residential and business communities can coexist in a vibrant, innovative and enterprising space and give confidence to those considering investing in the city.” What seems to be evident is that the CIP is designed to place more power in the hands of residents, in their fight against the swell of ‘vertical drinking establishments’.
I’m still a little hazy on the definition of what constitutes a ‘vertical drinking establishment’: true, it could be some hellish Ayia Napa-esque shot bar on Mathew Street, but could it also not be The Kazimier or The Shipping Forecast? Robert Nadler, Chief Executive of the Base2Stay hotel on Seel Street and a supporter of the CIP, enthused that what is needed are musical establishments “of quality” and that “the thumping beat of the latest top ten sound is completely different from an iconic band in one-off independent venues.”
But, is it really? And, do we trust the city’s council, hoteliers and residents to decide what is “of quality”? And, how on earth is that legislated for? After all, as was pointed out by Ladytron’s Daniel Hunt, “what we see when looking back over previous decades is failure of successive local authorities to recognise or understand our cultural assets until long afterwards, with a couple of very obvious high profile examples.”
There is also the somewhat inconvenient truth for the council that, in a climate of economic gloom, the ‘vertical drinking establishments’ represent, according to Graham Clarke (owner of The Peacock, Heebie Jeebies and formerly of The Masque before its closure), a “half a billion pound economy in Liverpool” and that “if you try shutting this down, you’re shutting the city down.”
The nighttime economy is worth a lot to Liverpool - but what is 'of quality'?
It is important to point out that the CIP is only currently being introduced in relation to new license applications and is not therefore directly responsible for the Noise Abatement Notice at Static but, as was confirmed by Council Cabinet Member Steve Mumby during the debate, the CIP does represent “a statement of identity and intent about the kind of area that we want.” Given this admission, the serving of a Noise Abatement Notice at Static on the strength of a single resident’s complaints starts to make some sense.
In somewhat of a cruel irony, as Static’s Noise Abatement Notice was landing on its doorstep at the end of November 2011, subscribers to Creative Review were receiving their December edition, which included an eight page celebration of Liverpool’s artistic community, and enthused that ‘a vibrant independent creative scene is thriving in Liverpool’. For economic reasons alone this is a community that needs to be protected and encouraged, not exiled and driven out. As Daniel Hunt pointed out, “I lived in Milan and witnessed first hand its renowned Fashion Week diminishing in international importance. Young designers no longer want to live there and as the principle industry the city should have been concerned. This dwindling global status has coincided with a managed decline in nightlife pursued by a mayor who believed the city should be made more tranquil in-keeping with her own socially conservative outlook.”
Music is Liverpool. It is completely central to what our city stands for ideologically and the core of what the marketeers will refer to as our ‘brand message’. Whether that is being named ‘Best British City for a Night On The Town’ by TripAdvisor, the thousands of students that came to ‘study’ in the city during the heady days of Cream, or the droves of day trippers now festooned around the Albert Dock on any given afternoon, it is utterly central to why people come here and, crucially, why they spend here. According to Invest Merseyside, “the Leisure and Tourism industry is now worth a staggering £1.3 billion to the Liverpool City Region economy, sustaining 23,000 jobs.” It is also, in many cases, exactly why people live in the city.
Luckily, the debate did seem to throw up a potential solution, one that was greeted somewhat unanimously from across the divide. “At the core of what I think would make this work is what I would call ‘being good neighbours’,” said Councillor Steve Mumby. “There have been a number of instances where there have been tensions between residents and bars and people have sat down and talked and it has worked very well.” This was a sentiment echoed by Peter Schriewersmann, who suggested that, “collaborating with neighbours and operators and coming up with working solutions is very much possible.”
What is frustrating is that it has taken the servicing of a legal enforcement to bring this issue to the point where dialogue is being sought. After the initial complaints were received, Static revised the hours at which it held live music events, making sure that all live music was finished before midnight. The venue also went as far as to cancel certain club nights, events at which it was thought noise levels could potentially be high after the (self-imposed) midnight curfew. Unfortunately, these concessions were lost in correspondence between various Council departments before the Abatement notice was served (a regular occurrence according to Simon Harris, an Acoustic Consultant from ARUP, when he suggested that, in his experience, he’d witnessed a “lack of co-ordination between Licensing, Planning, Environmental Health and other parts of the council” in relation to the issue of noise). These concessions made by Static are moves that, at the public debate, Councilor Steve Mumby regarded to be “quite reasonable,” before adding, “I’d have no problem with there being live music on in here until midnight and I’d be a hypocrite if I did because I’ve been to such events here.”
The Noise Debate in full flow (pic by Thom Isom)
What we are left with is a situation where a key cultural asset to the city is bound with a legislative noose about it’s neck while, at a public meeting, the concessions Static has implemented in relation to its noise policy have been met with universal approval from councilors and residents alike. At Bido Lito! we join the debate’s chair Doug Clelland, in his call for “the Noise Abatement Order to be withdrawn forthwith by the Council, in order that Councilor Steve Mumby’s wish for debate and discussion can get underway.”
We will keep you abreast of developments as they unfold...